NYSB Interview with Leslie Cunningham of BROWN SKIN SHOWGIRLS

Updated: Sep 9

Last month, I partnered up with Jo Weldon's New York School of Burlesque to interview an amazing artist, historian, and storyteller --Brown Skin Showgirls author and filmmaker Leslie Cunningham!

This was my first burlesque interview, and I was quite nervous. I read (and re-read) Leslie's book, taking notes on all the amazing photographs and research she's done. Thankfully the conversation with Leslie flowed naturally, and the time kind of flew by. I was also incredibly thankful that Jo was there to help manage questions coming from the chat.

Leslie's work in black burlesque history is all the more interesting because it's tied up into her own personal family history. Her grandmother and grand-aunts were acclaimed shake dancers in the 1940s known as The Bates Sisters, and her grandfather is Leon Claxton, legendary producer of the Harlem in Havana Revue. Check out this clip of Leslie talking about how her grandmother and grand-aunts started in burlesque and vaudeville:

In addition to discussing Claxton's traveling shows, shake-dancing headliners The Bates Sisters, burlesque troupe the Cuban Dancing Dolls, and drag queen Greta Garbage Garland, we also talked about:

  • carnival midways and midnight rambles

  • showgirl pay and show profits

  • reclaiming and reframing offensive, antiquated terms like "jig"

  • the debate over the term "exotic dancer"

  • grand and glamorous costuming

  • the international influence of black burlesque shows

and much more. Whew... we talked about A LOT! And it was worth it -- by the end, we all learned so much more about what I personally dub the Golden Age of Black Burlesque (that's a blog post to come -- stay tuned). You can watch the entire full interview here.

All in all, I hope this conversation with Leslie inspired other performers to document themselves as much as possible. Even if some folks disapprove of what we do, there may come a family member generations from now who sees the art and beauty in our acts -- and they may want to make a movie about us! :-P

Please support Leslie's efforts to make Brown Skin Showgirls into a full-length documentary. Her CashApp is $NMRKLION, and you can also donate to her PayPal at paypal.me/TRIBESEntertainment. You can order your own copy of Brown Skin Showgirls here. All funds will go towards Leslie's new documentary film project, "Leon Claxton's Harlem in Havana."

And The Doll (that's me) just moved into a new apartment, so I am GLADLY accepting love donations because moving is expensive! :-) My CashApp is $bebebardot, Venmo is @bebebardot, and my PayPal is paypal.me/bebebardot.

Until next time,


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